Many are familiar with Liberty Hall and the Orlando Brown House in historic downtown Frankfort, but few realize they can do more than tour the museum or rent the grounds.
They could actually live there.
“The public, in general, seems to be surprised that we have renters here,” Karla Nicholson, executive director of the Liberty Hall Historic Site, said Wednesday. “… But we also have people who are just really interested in history and like the idea of living in a 200-year-old house.”
Since the late 1960s, the Liberty Hall Historic Site has been leasing one-bedroom apartments in Liberty Hall and the Orlando Brown House for a reasonable price.
Both are equipped with modern amenities like air conditioning and electricity, but some of the original features, like the wooden floors and the vertical-paneled barn-like doors, have been kept intact.
“It very much looks like you’re living in the 19th century,” Nicholson said.
Liberty Hall, built in 1796 and home to one of Kentucky’s first U.S. senators, John Brown, is a national historic landmark and is visited by thousands of people each year. Both the Orlando Brown House, built in 1835 for Sen. Brown’s second son Orlando, and Liberty Hall are sites of a number of public events throughout the year, so there’s always something for the tenant to do, Nicholson said.
“You can come home and find a wine and cheese reception on the back porch,” Nicholson said.
“… If you played your cards right, you could probably sneak into a wedding reception and have some free cake,” she joked.
In both houses, the apartment sits above the main kitchen and, with its own entrance and stairway, is separated from the rest of the house, a common setup for larger 18th and 19th century homes. The location is likely why site staff chose to lease the apartments, Nicholson said, as it was a way to bring in money without interfering with the historical site’s daily operations.
Nicholson says it’s likely the Liberty Hall apartment was used for kitchen storage and for servant’s quarters. As for the Orlando Brown apartment, Nicholson says there’s documentation that Brown may have used the room himself.
“We have a journal entry that refers to that area of the Orlando Brown House and some of his children, in the 1840s, being in that room and having evening snacks above the kitchen,” Nicholson said.
“So we think it may have been used as a family room.”
The renters have access to Liberty Hall and Orlando Brown’s impressive back porches, beautiful flower gardens and sprawling grounds, all of which are maintained by the Liberty Hall Historic Site.
Daniel Hulker, who just moved out of the Liberty Hall apartment and into Orlando Brown, said people were often surprised to hear about his apartment because they believed Liberty Hall already to be occupied by someone else.
“The Gray Lady is not on the lease,” said Hulker, who works for the Transportation Cabinet. He’s referring to Sen. Brown’s relative Margaret Varick, whose ghost is rumored to haunt Liberty Hall. “But what I did see and hear were people looking for the ghost … that’s who haunts the place.”
Hulker said it wasn’t uncommon for him to be awakened, especially on weekends and around Halloween, in the middle of the night by curious high schoolers and college kids searching for the Gray Lady. But since many don’t know about the apartments, some of the ghost hunters get more than they bargained for.
Hulker recalled one time he heard people outside and decided to pull open the curtains, a move that made the ghost hunters “run away as fast as possible.”
Nicholson said there’s also a story dating back to the early 1970s when one of the female renters inadvertently startled a police officer who was patrolling the grounds in the wee hours of the morning.
“The lady who lived here at the time opened a window and peeked her head out and said, ‘Would you like a cup of coffee?’ and apparently it scared him; the policeman ran down the street,” Nicholson said with a laugh.
“It can be spooky, if you don’t know someone lives here … but in all the stories we have on the Gray Lady, she’s very kind. So I bet she would have offered a cup of coffee to the policeman if she were here.”
Something that’s not too scary: the price. It costs $495 a month to rent the Liberty Hall apartment and $550 to live in the Orlando Brown apartment, which is larger than the one at Liberty Hall and comes with a washer and dryer. Both prices include utilities.
But don’t count on one becoming available anytime soon – Hulker just signed a one-year lease for the Orlando Brown apartment, and before that, he had lived at Liberty Hall for more than two years. Nicholson said the past few Liberty Hall tenants had also lived there for several years.
“They don’t turn over all that often,” Nicholson said. “… But we plan on renting these for quite awhile. Anyone out there who gets really upset that they didn’t get here while these were open, there’s always a chance.”